More than 132,000 descendants of the Jews expelled from Spain in the late 15th century have applied for Spanish citizenship under a law intended to make amends for the mass exile.
The law, introduced four years ago, was designed to atone for the “historical wrong” that saw the country’s Jewish community expelled, forced to convert to Catholicism or burned at the stake.
After being extended for a year, the law lapsed on 1 October. According to the justice ministry, 132,226 people of Sephardic descent applied for Spanish citizenship before the deadline, with a huge rise in applications in the past month.
“By 31 August, 60,226 applications had been received, but in September alone, almost 72,000 were received, most of them from citizens in Latin American countries, mainly Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela,” the ministry said in a statement.
The Spanish government had initially estimated that around 90,000 people would seek citizenship, but acknowledged that it was hard to know just how many people would meet the criteria.
Spain’s Federation of Jewish Communities (FCJE), which certifies applications, said it had received more than 30,000 from Mexico, 26,000 from Colombia, 14,000 from Venezuela, 7,000 from Argentina, 5,400 from the US and 4,900 from Israel.
It has also dealt with applications from Panama, Ecuador, Brazil, Turkey, France, the UK, Serbia and Montenegro, Peru, Chile, Morocco and Afghanistan.
Although the process does not require applicants to be practising Jews or to be resident in Spain, it is long, complicated and expensive.
As well as taking tests in Spanish language and culture, applicants needed to prove their Sephardic heritage, establish or prove a special connection with Spain, and then pay a designated notary to certify their documents.
Isaac Querub, the president of the FCJE, said the law had finally achieved its aims.
“Thousands of Sephardic Jews from all over the world have recovered their Spanish nationality and thousands more are in the process of doing so,” he said.
“Spain has used a long-lasting legal act to close a historical wound. Sephardic Jews are no longer ‘the Jews without a homeland’. Spain came to miss them and the Sephardic Jews never forgot Spain.”
A similar law was approved in Portugal in 2015 to atone for the expulsions from that part of the Iberian peninsula.
“There is no possibility to amend what was done,” the Portuguese government said at the time, adding that the law represented “an attribution of a right”.
Brexit has fuelled a huge increase in the number of applications for Portuguese citizenship.
The Jewish Community of Oporto – which, along with the Lisbon Jewish community, certifies applicants – said it had received just five applications before the Brexit referendum compared with 400 in the two months following the vote.
The Jewish Federation of New Mexico also recorded a spike in applications following the election of Donald Trump as president.
“Before the election, we issued maybe 20 or 30 certificates,” Sara Koplik, the federation’s director of community outreach, told the Guardian last year.
“But we have now issued 1,500 – from multiple countries.”
While the federation has dealt with applications from more than 50 countries, the majority come from the US, Mexico and Venezuela.
“It’s a big jump and of course some of it had nothing to do with the United States – it has to do with Venezuela and violence in Mexico – but for Americans, they see this as an insurance policy just in case, against hatred,” said Koplik.
Published by ” The Guardian “